Sharon has created an award-winning career based on combining her two great loves: nutrition and writing. Sharon is an accomplished writer, editor, blogger, author, speaker, and media expert. In particular, her expertise is in plant-based nutrition, cooking, and sustainability. Sharon has authored over 950 articles in a variety of publications, including Better Homes and Gardens, Prevention, and LA Times. Her book The Plant-Powered Diet: The Lifelong Eating Plan for Achieving Optimal Health, Beginning Today (The Experiment, July 2012) was a critical success, which was followed by her second book Plant-Powered for Life: Eat Your Way to Lasting Health with 52 Simple Steps & 125 Delicious Recipes in July 2014. In addition, she has contributed to several book chapters on nutrition and sustainability.
Sharon serves as the nutrition editor for Today’s Dietitian, provides here expertise to many publications and organizations on an advisory basis, and speaks widely at conferences and in the media. And she still has time to blog every day for her popular online community (70,000+ members strong) at The Plant-Powered Dietitian. Sharon is a judge for the prestigious James Beard Journalism Award, and is currently attending graduate school at Green Mountain College in Vermont in order to obtain a Master Degree in Sustainable Food Systems in late 2018.
Living in the chaparral hills overlooking Los Angeles with her husband and two sons, Sharon enjoys tending to her own organic garden, visiting the local farmers market every week, and cooking for friends and family.
She was kind enough to lend her time to Oola, answering our many questions about nutrition and the world of dietitians. We touched on topics of misconceptions about food, health science skeptics, and how easy it is to prepare good, nutritious food in a short amount of time. Read on to learn from a true expert!
Oola: What inspired you to focus on the field of diet and nutrition?
Sharon: When I was a young girl, I loved food–cooking, reading about nutrition, gardening. Just everything about it. I thumbed through cookbooks and food magazines when most kids were playing in the schoolyard. I knew that I wanted to do something related to food and nutrition. As I became more aware, through my own study and reading, that food and nutrition had a powerful impact on health, it became clear that this field was for me. I studied nutrition at Loma Linda University, where I became a registered dietitian nutritionist.
Oola: You specialize in plant-based food and nutrition. Can you elaborate on what it entails?
Sharon: I have followed a plant-based diet my whole life, and that was part of my own personal journey. However, when I wrote my two books on plant-based eating, I was able to let that be a part of my professional journey, too. Now, I have become an expert in this area; speaking, writing, and blogging about it. I am very knowledgeable on the nutritional aspects of following various plant-based diet patterns, such as vegetarian or vegan diets. And I provide information for people on how to eat a healthful, balanced plant-based diet, how to cook healthful, delicious plant-based foods, and eat more sustainably to reduce your impact on the planet.
I can tell you that most dietitians today embrace a healthful, delicious, balanced philosophy of eating.
Oola: What’s a common misconception people have about working with a Dietitian?
Sharon: They may think that dietitians are only for people who are sick and have a condition, such as diabetes or heart disease. But dietitians can help you with so many things–they can help you manage food allergies, plan healthful diets for the family, keep you fit and at a healthy weight, and provide guidance for meal programs if you are struggling with food security or cooking food at home. Another common misbelief is that dietitians are the “food police” and that we want to sap the joy out of eating. I can tell you that most dietitians today embrace a healthful, delicious, balanced philosophy of eating. We believe that your eating style should be sustainable–meaning that it’s a way of eating you can manage every day, without feeling deprived.
I always remind people that science is constantly evolving–in all fields of science really.
Oola: One day we read in the news that something is bad for us, the next day we read it’s good. Is there a rule of thumb or method to use to figure out which to believe?
Sharon: This is really frustrating for a lot of people, and they lose faith in science or the field of nutrition. I always remind people that science is constantly evolving–in all fields of science really. We replace old paradigms with new ones as science teaches us more. So, thirty years ago we didn’t realize that trans fats, and refined carbohydrates would be bad for us. We thought fat was evil. Now, science shows us that no amount of trans fats are good, refined carbs can be bad for your heart, and it’s not how much fat you eat that’s as important as what type of fat.
One of the problems is that the headlines that tout nutrition studies often cover only one single study, which can lead to confusion. For example, they may report that “butter is back” and that it’s good for you. But what is important to understand is that one has to look at the whole body of science, rather than a few isolated studies. If thirty years worth of research and hundreds of different types of studies show that saturated fats raise cholesterol and heart disease risk, then this has to be considered when reviewing the science from one study. The same is true on something like a supplement or a botanical. If one single study–which could even be a laboratory or animal study, not a human study–shows that a certain compound has anti-cancer effects, that doesn’t mean it cures cancer. When people put a lot of faith in these single studies, when the findings don’t wash out in other studies, people can be disillusioned.
Then one other thing takes place–numerous blogs and so-called experts, with no nutrition training or background, offer their advice, which can often be wrong. And the average person doesn’t have the training to decipher the research and know whether something is valid. That’s why it’s best to look to a registered dietitian or a respected nutrition organization (i.e., NIH, AHA, AICR, ADA) to discover their take on these complex matters.
Oola: What’s a food that a lot of people consider healthy that is actually pretty unhealthy?
Sharon: Cured meats, such as ham. It could be lean, but the latest research shows that processed red meats, including deli meats, sausage, bacon, are linked with significantly higher risks for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.
Oola: Eating healthy while traveling can be a real challenge. Any tips for making it more manageable?
Sharon: Here are a few of my favorite tips:
- Pack a few healthy snacks, such as whole fruit and bags of nuts. If you are in a bind, you can turn that into a light meal.
- Check out your eating options before you get there. Using your smartphone, you can see which are available, and find those with the healthiest options.
- Look for options that include more vegetables, plant proteins (beans, lentils, veggie-burgers) and whole grains. Scan the menu to make sure these are available. More and more restaurants are providing healthier choices.
I am really hating the keto diet trend. This is an unhealthful diet pattern that will certainly fade away at some time
Oola: What’s a big trend in American diets that you think is really positive or negative?
Sharon: I am really hating the keto diet trend. This is an unhealthful diet pattern that will certainly fade away at some time, as it is very difficult to do and unsustainable. I know that people lose weight, but there are much more healthful and enjoyable ways to do this. If there’s one thing science agrees on, it is that the healthiest diet in the planet is filled with plant proteins (beans, lentils, peas, soy), whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and nuts. This is pretty much the opposite of the keto diet.
Oola: If you could only keep one of the following items in your diet for the rest of time, which would it be: Coffee, Ice Cream, or Bacon?
Sharon: Coffee! This is actually a healthful habit (in moderation) linked to longevity too.
Oola: What advice do you have to give to our readers for living life to their tastes while maintaining a healthy diet?
Sharon: Eating healthfully can be absolutely delicious! I enjoy a Mediterranean approach to healthful eating, with moderate amounts of healthy fats like olive oil, avocado, and nuts; and I fill my diet with seasonal local plant foods. I live in California and visit the farmers market every weekend, plus grow a lot of my own food. There is nothing more delicious than a perfectly ripe heirloom tomato, sliced over home-baked sourdough bread, with a drizzle of good EVOO. This is simple food, yet so healthful and delicious. Eating healthfully doesn’t have to be expensive or out of range. The Mediterranean diet was once considered the “poor man’s diet”, as it literally took advantage of everything that was available in the region. We can apply that style of eating to our own lives, where we eat simple, rustic, ripe foods, instead of highly processed, packaged foods.
Healthy good food doesn’t have to take hours to prepare, it can be simple.
Oola: Anything else you’d like to comment on while we have you?
Sharon: People often say that they can’t eat healthfully because they don’t have time. But I say you can get a healthy meal on the table in the amount of time you can call and pick up takeout. And it will taste so much better! Healthy good food doesn’t have to take hours to prepare, it can be simple. Prepare yourself on your day off for the whole week by stocking your pantry with staples and seasonal fresh food, and you will have the elements of healthful meals at your fingertips.
To Learn More About Sharon, Follow Her At:
Company: Sharon Palmer is the owner of The Plant-Powered Dietitian
Specialties: Plant-based food and nutrition expert, author, and blogger.